Background: House Bill 191 and Senate Bill 143 are companion bills that would establish the definition of a “gang member” and provide mandatory increased penalties for “gang members.” The bills define gangs based on “style of dress,” “hand signs,” or if an individual has been observed in the presence of known gang members — among other identifiers. These bills would enhance penalties for any criminal activity that benefits, promotes, or furthers the interest of a gang. These bills would also require any child 16 years of age or older to be tried as an adult for any gang-related criminal activity.
Our Position: We are opposed to HB 191 and SB 143. These bills use an overly broad and highly discretionary definition to identify individuals gang affiliated and these sentencing enhancements are unnecessary when we have existing criminal penalties that are being enforced to criminalize similar activity. These bills open the door to dangerous profiling and infringe upon First Amendment expression.